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Most simply, the art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and the convenience of people. In its modern form engineering involves people, money, materials, machines, and energy. It is differentiated from science because it is primarily concerned with how to direct to useful and economical ends the natural phenomena which scientists discover and formulate into acceptable theories. Engineering therefore requires above all the creative imagination to innovate useful applications of natural phenomena. It seeks newer, cheaper, better means of using natural sources of energy and materials.

The typical modern engineer goes through several phases of career activity. Formal education must be broad and deep in the sciences and humanities. Then comes an increasing degree of specialization in the intricacies of a particular discipline, also involving continued postscholastic education. Normal promotion thus brings interdisciplinary activity as the engineer supervises a variety of specialists. Finally, the engineer enters into the management function, weaving people, money, materials, machines, and energy sources into completed processes for the use of society.